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Florida sheriff’s fugitive show features non-fugitives

The sheriff’s signature game show, “Wheel of Fugitive,” often included people who were sitting in his own jail.
In this 2017 photo, Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey demonstrates the 'Wheel of Fugitive' board, in which a “fugitive of the week” is selected in a mock game show.
In this 2017 photo, Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey demonstrates the 'Wheel of Fugitive' board, in which a “fugitive of the week” is selected in a mock game show. [ FLORIDA TODAY | Malcolm Denemark/Florida Today via AP ]
Published Mar. 13
Updated Mar. 13

TITUSVILLE — Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey’s signature social media program, Wheel of Fugitive, in which a “fugitive of the week” is selected in a mock game show every Tuesday, almost always includes people who are not on the run from the law because they are already in jail, out on bond, have served their time or have no active warrants for their arrest.

On the show, Ivey spins a giant roulette wheel with up to 10 mugshots of “participants” who are supposedly wanted by law enforcement. The goal: land on one who will be the focus of efforts that week to bring them to jail.

INVESTIGATION UNCOVERS DISCREPANCIES IN WHEEL OF FUGITIVE

An investigation by FLORIDA TODAY of 45 episodes of the BCSO’s Wheel of Fugitive, which aired between Feb 25, 2020, and Feb 23, 2021, identified 60 individuals who were incorrectly featured on the wheel. Out of the 45 episodes, all but four included at least one non-fugitive. In the Nov 3, 2020, edition, seven out of the 10 ‘participants’ were not on the lam.

Ivey did not address questions emailed to him by FLORIDA TODAY but replied: “Thank you for your interest in the success of Wheel of Fugitive and for continuing to follow us on Facebook at Brevard County Sheriff’s Office Official to partner with us to help keep Brevard County safe!”

Often the non-fugitives were featured week after week on the show. In the most extreme case found in the past year, Nicole Jill Dowd was featured as a fugitive on eight consecutive episodes between March 24, 2020, and June 2, 2020, despite being booked in jail on March 19, and remaining there until she was legally released on June 2, the day of her last appearance on Wheel of Fugitive.

Not once in any of the 45 editions did the spinning roulette wheel land on the pictures of non-fugitives, meaning they were never selected as “fugitive of the week.”

Although Wheel of Fugitive has a disclaimer crawling along the bottom of the screen that some of those depicted might no longer be fugitives, it raises questions how the Sheriff and his staff are vetting those featured. And legal experts say the disclaimer doesn’t remove the burden from the sheriff to make sure that he is not depicting people as fugitives when they aren’t.

Kenneth Nunn, a criminal law professor at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law, said failing to ensure you are not wrongly calling people fugitives could be a violation of their Fourth Amendment right to privacy.

WHAT OUR INVESTIGATION UNCOVERED

Altogether, FLORIDA TODAY found that the non-fugitives were incorrectly featured a cumulative 135 times out of 448 slots across 45 episodes. Differently put, fugitives aren’t fugitives nearly 30% of the time on “Wheel of Fugitive.”

What’s more, in most of those cases, 112 out of those 135 times, the show featured people who were sitting in the sheriff’s own jail. The remaining 23 were a mix of people legally out on parole or plea bargains, or people who simply did not have active warrants for their arrests.